PizzaPlex — the Southwest Detroit neighborhood pizzeria that gave Detroit Neapolitan-style pies and Selena-themed karaoke nights, and that opened with aspirations to become a worker-owned collective — is closing on Monday, February 27. A GoFundMe campaign published Wednesday, February 15, broke the news as part of a bid to raise money for the workers facing unemployment.
“Unfortunately, PizzaPlex is set to close at the end of this month. The employees just found out, and most are facing unemployment as making pizza and serving drinks was their only source of income. I know that none of the employees would start a GoFundMe for themselves, so I wanted to step in and see if we could band together and get them some help to get them through this tough transition,” says the GoFundMe post.
Alessandra Carreon, co-owner of the pizzeria, confirmed the closure with Eater, saying that after trying for years to develop a business model that espouses values around equity, environmental sustainability, and community engagement, she and partner/husband Drew McUsic found the task untenable.
“The goal for me has been, if we get to a point of worker ownership, this is a successful business,” says Carreon. “There were times when we kind of got close and other times, like now, where I felt like this is so far away, and I can’t put the steps together to understand how we even approach it anymore.”
PizzaPlex opened its doors in 2017 with ambitious goals. At the time, the pizzeria was the only Vera Pizza Napoletana-certified eatery in the city. Carreon, who is of Italian and Filipina heritage, wanted the space to educate Detroiters on the finer points of the region’s pizza-making legacy. The space also went on to serve as a community hub, where customers could pay it forward through its “sospeso” program. Over the years, the pizzeria became known for its themed karaoke nights, pizza-making classes, and other special programming — many of which were conceptualized by PizzaPlex staffers.
The goal was always to take a more democratic approach by involving the teammates in the decision-making process so that they contribute to — and benefit from — the success of the business. While the ultimate goal of a more worker-owned model was not fully realized, Carreon says she loved to see how each employee brought their own passions to the space, making it feel like something more than just a restaurant.
“Not all restaurants are going to organize a tour to Naples, which is where the food comes from. Not all restaurants also teach you how to make the food that you’re eating in the restaurant,” Carreon says. “I was the most excited in terms of like, who’s here and what can we become.”
Along with most other food businesses, PizzaPlex struggled with frequent pivots during the pandemic. In addition to offering delivery when dining rooms were ordered to close across the state, the restaurant sold to-go cocktails and take-home pizza kits. More recently, the business added a Filipino barbecue menu, morning coffee service a few days a week, and amped up its sustainability efforts by participating in The PLEDGE on Food Waste — an international initiative that trains businesses on best practices to reduce food waste.
Carreon says that the last night of service for PizzaPlex will be Monday, February 27, and will feature a ticketed vermouth and cocktail tasting event between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., followed by Industry Night featuring DJ’s and food and drink specials all night long.